Lunch With a Living Legend

Flybox - Judith O'KeefeWords and photos by Judith O’Keefe

The weather was dreary, a typical March day on the North Umpqua River.  A friend and I made the five hour drive over the mountains to meet up with John, a well known author, fly tier, longtime friend and — most importantly — frequent visitor to this legendary and challenging river.

John was a gracious host that morning, leading us to some of the easier runs, offering tips and allowing us to fish the run ahead of him.   We saw one fish roll late morning, but no one hooked up. The climate on the west side of the mountains is known to be wet, but by noon it had begun to rain in earnest, so we decided to take a break and pay a visit to John’s good friends, Frank and Jeanne Moore.

I’d met Frank and Jeanne in 2002 at a sport show and, at that time, Frank had extended an invitation to visit their home and fish with him on the Umpqua.  I was flattered by the invitation and eager to spend some time with these two, but had never found the time to make the drive over.  I didn’t know much about Frank back then, other than he was known as a “living legend.”  That title is thrown around loosely these days, but I was to learn that Frank Moore had earned it through his skill as a fly fisher, his willingness to mentor others and his successful and ongoing conservation efforts.

North Umpqua River - Judith O'KeefeThe Moores’ log home sat perched on a ridge above the river.  When we arrived, Frank was outside chatting with friends who were fishing a forest pond in front of the house.  The six of us stood around for 10 minutes talking about fish and fishing and the rising river.  Apparently, those west side folks are used to getting wet and didn’t seem to notice the rain.  Frank asked if we’d eaten lunch and when we said we had not, he invited us in to sample Jeanne’s grilled cheese sandwiches. Besides, he had a couple of old photographs of the river he wanted to show us that would help to illustrate a story he was telling.   A hot meal sounded perfect and I was interested in hearing the rest of the story.

As we peeled off our saturated outerwear and waders on the front porch, I eagerly anticipated a warm room and hot food, but I was unprepared for what I experienced when I walked through the door.  Steam rose from the kettle on the wood cook stove as Jeanne stood with her back to us, spreading butter on bread.  The walls of the great-room were filled with mementos, beautifully framed photographs and artwork.  I imagined that each had a story to tell.   I was right.  Three hours flew by as we talked about the past and the present.  I learned a lot about the Moores, who recently celebrated their seventieth wedding anniversary.   Frank grew up fishing in southern Oregon and, after the war, he and his bride moved to the North Umpqua to run the legendary Steamboat Inn and raise a family on the river.   Not only were the ensuing years filled with creating a world-renowned destination, but Frank also spent considerable time and effort that resulted in regulations that curbed the effects of logging on the river and surrounding environment.   At age 90, I’m told that Frank can still out-cast most fly fisherman, with casts that reach 100 feet when the need arises.  I’ve heard Frank called a Spiritual Father, Grand Old Man of the River, The Great Frank Moore, and yes, a Living Legend.  Indeed!

While stories of an adventurous life spent on the river were truly awe inspiring, Frank’s sincere appreciation of the natural world is what really impressed me.  We all fish and spend time outdoors for our different reasons.  If I were asked to sum up my reasons in one word, that word would be “connection.”  So I understand why Frank and Jeanne chose to spend their life on the beautiful and remote Umpqua River, and I deeply appreciate their willingness to open their home and their lives to fellow fly fishers.  My life is richer for the experience.

Frank Moore - Rivermaster

Fly - Judith O'Keefe